Everyday Narratives on Race and Health in Brazil


In 2006, Brazil approved a groundbreaking policy aimed at reducing significant racial health inequalities among its citizens. Like health disparities programs in the United States, Brazil’s policy is based on the assumptions that racial identity and racism are important health determinants and that citizens who identify as “black” suffer disproportionately from a number of health problems. How do these assumptions compare to Brazilian citizens’ conceptions of racial identity and health inequalities? To address this question, I present ethnographic data from two years of fieldwork in Brazilian public clinics and low-income neighborhoods. I show that a majority of research participants made no connection between race and better or worse health. Of those who perceived health inequalities by race, most believed that white Brazilians had more health problems than black or brown Brazilians. Finally, I consider the implications of these ethnographic findings for Brazil’s health disparities campaign.